Gangs or cliques or mobs form in families, at schools and in the workplace.  They go after designated scapegoats. At home, toxic parents, siblings or close or distant relatives often single out innocent targets and try to get everyone else to turn against them.

For example: Jane was appalled that suddenly her aunt was angry at her.  Her aunt’s attacks started with seemingly small, negative comments about clothes, hair and make up.  In Jane’s close, extended family no one objected.  They didn’t want to offend her aunt or start fights.  The family gathered almost every week and their closeness was very important.

Jane apologized to her aunt for whatever she might have done but her aunt never acknowledged that she was angry or that her remarks were nasty or wrong.  Even worse, when no one defended Jane, her aunt’s verbal harassment increased.  She criticized or mocked Jane at every opportunity about everything.

Soon, Jane’s aunt’s husband joined in and then another aunt piled on.  Then two cousins joined.  They colluded with and enabled the aunt.  Some even told all the secrets Jane had confided in them.  It was as if her life had been exposed and picked apart by hyenas.

Jane was crushed but no matter how she cried or pleaded, they never acknowledged that they were bullying or abusing her.  Sometimes one would say that they were just telling the truth or that they were trying to help Jane or that Jane deserved it.

Jane began to dread the family gatherings but she was stuck.  She was required to attend.  Also, she was desperate for her family’s approval and respect.  She couldn’t imagine life without them.

Finally, during one particularly vicious afternoon, Jane had had it.  She rushed out of the house and vowed that she wouldn’t put up with the abuse any more.  When Jane’s mother criticized her for leaving her wonderful family and for causing a potential rift, Jane couldn’t hold her tongue anymore.

She told her mother she couldn’t stand being the target of these attacks.  She didn’t want to be around people who thought those horrible things about her.  She hated all the people who supposedly loved her but weren’t standing up for her.  They should know her character better that that.  Getting away was more important that staying with people who treated her that way.

Jane changed her perspective and priorities. Jane decided she’d been looking for solutions in all the wrong places.  She’d been asking the wrong questions and having hopes that wouldn’t be fulfilled.  For example:

  1. She’d been thinking that if she explained herself and how much she was being hurt, they’d understand and love her like they used to and stop being so critical.  She also thought that by trying to talk with them calmly and nicely, they’d respect her and be nice to her in return.
  2. She had focused on why they said those horrible things.  Their attacks didn’t make any sense; why did they do it; didn’t they have a conscience?
  3. She had thought that if she could understand why they did it, she could apologize for whatever they were angry about and then they’d love her again.

Now she saw things differently and it all made sense to her.

  1. She had done nothing in particular to deserve how her aunt treated her.  Her aunt was simply a nasty person; had always been, but the family had tolerated her aunt’s behavior in the name of “family.”
  2. Her aunt’s rule was that if you don’t do what she wanted right now, you’re bad or evil and deserve to be destroyed whenever she felt like it or got around to it.  And if she changed her mind in five minutes, you must do the new thing, not the old thing, even if it’s opposite.  Jane’s aunt was a narcissist; in her mind she was always justified in doing what she wanted.
  3. Her aunt took no responsibility for doing anything wrong or for making things better.  In fact, the more Jane tried to heal the breach, the more her aunt thought Jane was weak and vulnerable.  That encouraged her to attack Jane even more.  That seemed weird to Jane but it was accurate.
  4. Jane realized that a cousin who used to be the prime target of her aunt’s vicious tongue and gang of followers had moved away.  Her aunt simply needed another target and had selected Jane as the weakest and sweetest person and, therefore, the one most likely to tolerate it.
  5. Jane could see the answer to her question; “Why do people pile on?”  Typical reasons are that it feels good to some people when they put down someone else or they’re afraid to resist the nastiest person in the room or they’re jealous or they’re cowards with “good” excuses.  Behaving like that made no sense to Jane, but she saw that it was accurate.

Now, she could stop thinking about those subjects.  Jane realized that it didn’t matter why.  Nothing reasonable on her part would make her aunt stop.  What mattered was that they did abuse her and she wouldn’t stand for it any more.

She’d protect herself and see who’d stand with her.  She might be a target but she wouldn’t be a victim.  She felt powerful; she didn’t need them to empower her.  She’d stand up, no matter what the consequences.  She’d make herself worth protecting.

Jane’s anti-bullying program:

  1. She stopped asking useless questions and stopped accepting the role they wanted her to play.  She stood up and shined a light on what was happening.  Protecting herself was more important than sacrificing her heart and spirit on the altar of some “family value.”
  2. In her own mind and then in public, Jane labeled her aunt’s behavior as “nasty” or “bullying” or “abusive” or “evil.”  She never argued with the content or accusation her aunt was making.  She attacked the act of making such vicious comments.  She ignored her aunt’s hurt feelings and anger at what Jane said.
  3. On occasions when her statements didn’t stop her aunt, Jane turned to the rest of the family and challenged them.  “Are you going to stand by and let her be so mean?  Don’t you care about me?  I thought you loved me?  We’re not talking about whether what she says is true; we’re talking about how we treat each other.  This is a bad example to set for the kids.  I thought we were supposed to be kind in this family?  Who would want to be part of such a family?”
  4. If the gang didn’t stop, she spoke more straight-forwardly: “You cowards, ganging up on me to enable that nasty old woman.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  I hope your kids treat you the same way when they grow up.”
  5. If people didn’t defend her, she held her head up high and left.  And she made sure that she did something that was a fun treat, just in case they asked later.  When she did leave one family gathering, she made sure not to attend the next one.

What happened?

  1. At first, her relatives were surprised and shocked by the new Jane.  They phoned her in confidence to try to force her, using blame, shame and guilt, to be quiet and not upset the family.  They had many reasons why she should put up with her aunt’s behavior.  Later, they told her that they were secretly impressed by her courage and strength.
  2. The people in her aunt’s gang called and were very vicious and nasty.  She hung up on them.
  3. Of course, people wanted her to change because they all thought that the aunt was the most difficult and resistant person in the room.  Typically, people try to change the easiest person, not the most difficult.  But when they saw that Jane would not back down and that they must make a choice, they turned on Jane’s aunt and demanded that she stop.  They also attacked the members of her aunt’s gang.  Deep down, they all knew that criticism and harassment were not the way they wanted members of their family treating each other.
  4. Jane never let on that their treatment hurt her feelings.  Over time, she was surprised that her feelings got hurt less and less.
  5. The moment of truth came when her aunt threatened not to come to family gatherings.  It was her or Jane, she demanded.  She was stunned when most of the relatives said they’d choose Jane.  That’s when Jane’s aunt started to back down.

Jane’s situation was, unfortunately, very typical.  Bullies don’t stop bullying because they’re asked to or begged or appeased.  They don’t stop if their behavior is minimized or ignored.  They only stop if they are stopped.  Some people won’t stop even then; they insist on being in control and being right.  They’d rather leave than give in.

In Jane’s case, her aunt and her gang gave in.  They weren’t gracious and Jane never again shared her inner life with her aunt or the gang, but at least they could be polite and civil on family occasions.

Actually, in other areas of her life, Jane was pleasantly surprised.  The act of standing up for herself against her aunt had changed Jane.  Jane was now able to ask for what she wanted and to pursue the goals she set for herself.  Instead of being a shy, retiring wallflower, she felt full of self-confidence.  She became a successful person whom others noticed and respected.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  Call me to design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Should kids ever fight physically in order to stop relentless school bullies? I’ve been interviewed a lot on radio and TV.  But when I ask those interviewers how they stopped bullying when they were kids, all the men say that bullies were stopped when someone beat them up.  More important, beating up a bully changed the target’s life.  The targets now felt that they could succeed in the world – they developed courage, confidence and high self-esteem.

Nevertheless, many well-meaning parents tell their kids never to fight.

They say that:

  • Bullies have a hard life so we should have sympathy for what they’re going through and how low their self-esteem must be.
  • Don’t sink to the bully’s level by fighting back.  We have it easy so we should rise above the bullies.
  • If we’re nice enough, kind enough and loving enough, the bullies will respond by being nice in return.
  • We should never push back – verbally or physically.  If we push back, it means we don’t care.
  • Violence is morally wrong and violence never solves anything.  Mahatma Gandhi stopped the British without pushing back and by preaching tolerance and love.

Let’s not even argue with those false statements.  If you watch the video about how being nice and caring doesn’t stop bullies, you’ll hear arguments disproving these statements.

Instead, let’s look at what bullies show us about what it takes to stop them.

Imagine a staircase going up.  The harder the bully pushes on us, the higher up the staircase we have to go in order to stop them.

At the lowest steps we do nice, peaceful things to try to get bullies to stop.  We ignore the bullying, we try to laugh it off, we make jokes to try to be friends with the bullies, we say how much it hurts, we ask them to stop or we try to rise above the hurt – that kind of thing.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  We’ve learned two things:

  1. Some peaceful techniques that might work with some people who are bullying.
  2. The bully was not a relentless bully.  The bully was a nice kid having a bad day.

But if the bullying does not stop, the bully is showing us that we have to be more firm in order to get that kid to stop.

So we go up to the next steps and push back verbally, and we learn how to do that skillfully.  Sometimes that works.  Bullies often respect other kids who show they’re not afraid and who have clever tongues.

If the bullying stops, that’s wonderful.  And, again, we’ve learned that the other kid was not a relentless bully.

Relentless bullies and determined boundary pushers are not stopped by these peaceful methods.  If we suffer in silence, if we whine, or if we advertise that we’re afraid, bullies think we’re victims waiting to be bullied.  If we’re kind, bullies think we are weak.  They’ll continue harassing and abusing us.

Now we have to go further up the staircase.  At this point targets might talk to school officials they trust to protect and defend them.  And they might get their parents involved.  And they need to remind their parents to get experienced, expert coaching.

If principals, teachers and parents still don’t stop the bullying, the relentless bullies are telling their targets that they’re going to have to fight back.  We’re close to the top of the staircase now.  Basically, we have to beat up the bully really badly – the quicker, nastier and harder the better.

Parents, you should have made sure your kid knows how to fight.  This goes for girls as well as boys.

A lot depends on the situation.  Is it one against one between kids who are the same size?  Is it one against a gang?  Fighting in elementary school can be just fists, but as the kids get older it will probably involve weapons.  There are many situations in which discretion is the better part of valor and the thing to do is to endure until we can get out of a rotten school or neighborhood, or away from a sociopath.

I strongly recommend three things:

  1. Don’t be a victim.  You may be a target but you’re in charge of your response as you judge the situation.  Keep a fire of courage and strength burning in your heart.
  2. Be willing to fight to protect and defend yourself.  Decide whether warning the bully might end the bullying or whether a surprise attack is your best option.
  3. Learn how to fight effectively.  Notice, I did not say, “cleanly.”

What if you get suspended for fighting?  It’s worth getting suspended if you’ve stopped the bullying.  You may be a target; don’t be a victim!

You must be determined, courageous and strong in defending and protecting yourself – not because you deserve it, but because you want to, you have to.  “I want to” is more than enough reason to protect yourself.

I speak this way because I was a short, skinny, four-eyed kid who grew up in a tough, inner city ghetto.  I learned by observation and experience, not by philosophy or wishful thinking.

What’s the price of tolerating bullies; slow erosion of your soul.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Do you think it’s normal for tweens and teens to be sarcastic toward their parents?  You know: the non-verbal hostility and sarcasm of eye-rolling, snorting, laughing.  You know: the openly sarcastic remarks, put-downs and talking back directly to us or in front of us while they’re talking to their friends. I think it’s normal for people to try to discover what works easiest for themselves: to think their opinions matter, to think that they’re entitled to express themselves in any way they feel like at the moment, to try to assert themselves and to push boundaries in order to gain control and power.

What’s not normal is for parents to allow their children to treat them that way.

Some typical reasons why parents don’t insist on better treatment:

  • Parents complain that it’s hard to resist the bad influences of tween and teen television, movies and internet shows, and the bad influences of their friends.  Yes, that stuff is out there.  Yes, we have to put out more effort to counterbalance bad influences.  Don’t wallow in analysis of those factors.  So, it’s hard?  We can’t wait for society to make things easy for us.  Who said parenting would be easy?  We must act as soon as we can to teach our children to see what’s wrong with the media and the behavior of some of their peers.
  • Many parents are afraid their children won’t like them if they’re “strict.”  As if being liked is more important than setting boundaries and high standards.  We do know that our children will understand a lot better when they have teenagers of their own.  Of course, there’s a balance.  I’m not talking about beating or abusing our kids.
  • Many parents think that it’s very important to be best friends their kids.  As if their kids will reveal more secrets to them or that kids will be helped to adjust better when they’re friends with their parents.  I even saw an official name for that style of parenting, “Peerenting.”  What nonsense.  If your children know as much as you, you don’t know enough.  They may be technically more savvy, but they’re still kids and we’re still parents.  They don’t know more about what constitutes good character, attitudes and values.  They don’t know more about the effects sarcasm and nastiness will have on their careers or families when they grow up.  We must teach them.
  • Many parents do not believe in punishing their children.  They think their children will grow out of all bad behaviors by themselves.  As if denying children what they want or thwarting their self-expression will create psychological problems for them later.  As if, when they become 21 or get married or have children, those kids will suddenly become polite, civil and responsible citizens who love their permissive parents.
  • Many parents believe they shouldn’t set standards.  They believe that kids should determine their own standards as they grow up.  I think we are teachers.  We teach them a set of standards that we think is right.  When they grow up they can decide what parts of ours they want to keep and what other ideas they want to try out.

One of the most important lessons we can teach and model for our tweens and teens is that we determine what behavior we’ll allow in our personal space.  We must not allow harassment, bullying and abuse in our personal space.  Since tweens and teens are still dependent on living with us, we can’t simply remove them from our space, as we would any adult who attacks us, no matter what the relationship is.  Therefore we must require that they treat us well.  That’s the first price they pay for anything they want from us beyond food and shelter.

Do not show them that we give into bullies.  They’ll believe what we show them, not what we ask, beg, bribe, threaten and yell at them to do.

In addition to developing the will, determination, courage and strength to set standards of behavior, we need to learn skills.

Some effective parental responses to smart-mouthed kids, all delivered with good cheer and smiles and a matter-of-fact firmness, are:

  • Take charge of the TV and internet.  Allow them to watch only certain shows or internet sites.  Sometimes, watch with them.  Teach them to resist bad influences they see.
  • The kids will say, “All the other kids act that way.  I’m just trying to fit in”  We can say, “If the other kids told you to murder someone or commit suicide, would you?  We don’t do what jerks or losers do.  We’re better.  We (last name) set higher standards.
  • They’ll say, “You’re just forcing me; you’re just blackmailing me.”  Answer, “Yes.  Of course I am.  I’m showing you how much I care about teaching you good behavior and what behavior I allow in my personal space.  I’m showing you that good behavior is so important I’m willing to make you unhappy.  Usually I try to make you happy.  There’s a price you pay for getting what you want from me.”
  • They’ll say, “I can say what I want.  It’s free speech.”  Answer, “Actually, there’s a lot that we as a society have decided you cannot say, like joking about carrying a bomb on an airplane or insisting you can play ‘Words With Friends.’”  Answer, “What you’re really arguing is that there should be no consequences for your being nasty; that no one should get upset when you’re a jerk.  I’m saying that there are consequences for expressing yourself any way you want.  People might not like you; people might not want to do nice things for you.”
  • Some other ideas to share with them
  • Treat the people you’re closest to, the nicest.  You know you have to be polite with strangers, teachers and cops.  Be even nicer to your parents.
  • If kids are left to create their own society, without wise adult input, you get “Lord of the Flies.”  Read it.  Would you like to be the target of those tweens expressing the worst of themselves?
  • No matter what we do, our kids will grow up disliking something about the way we raised them.  So what?  Say, “Do differently when you’re a parent.  Be prepared to be shocked when your kids protest about you even though you think you’re a wonderful parent.”

Even if they’re better debaters, require the behavior you want.  You don’t have to convince them you’re right or to get their permission or acceptance for your standards before you demand compliance.

Signs that you have a real problem child. It's a bad sign when children fight to the death to resist reasonable rules of polite, civil behavior.  Civility requires some effort compared to selfish, spoiled behavior and childish temper tantrums to get their way.  Therefore, I expect kids to push back at first.  Tell them that this battle is a waste of their precious time.  Encourage them to put their energy into struggling to succeed in school, to develop good friends, to prepare themselves with skills for being effective adults living a wonderful life.  If they still focus on fighting us, they have a real problem

What if you get no support from a bullying spouse? Again, this simply adds to the degree of difficulty.  Two very bad situations are if your spouse actively encourages and participates in abusing you, or if, for example, your extended family culture supports male children in abusing females.  Stand strong and openly set high standards.  If they won’t change, you may have to get rid of them.

What if you’re just beginning to set standards now that they’re teens? Of course, it’s always easier to start when they’re young.  If you let them get away with mistreating you when they’re five, you’re setting yourself up for a very big problem when they’re fifteen.  If you’ve let an older child grow up to be a rotten teen, don’t hesitate to learn from your mistakes with the younger children.  You can be open and honest, “I was wrong when I allowed your older brother or sister to act rotten.  I’m sorry I let them grow up spoiled, selfish and arrogant.  But I’ve learned and I’m doing better for you.  I know it may seem harder on you, but you’ll be much better for it.”

Prepare your children for being adults in a world where bosses and spouses won’t be permissive and all-forgiving.  They will require high standards of behavior.  They won’t plead with you and negotiate forever and neither should will I.

If your children have already become teenagers who think they’re entitled to do what they want, set boundaries immediately, as long as they’re under your roof.  And then demand good behavior toward you when they move out on their own.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Colleagues Who Can Make You Fat,” focuses on people at work who try to sabotage coworkers’ diets.  People reported that colleagues and bosses made them uncomfortable admitting they were on a diet 23% of the time. In contrast, dieters said they were uncomfortable admitting that they were dieting to people in personal life – friends, relatives and spouses – 63% of the time.  That is, there are almost three times as many diet saboteurs among those who are closest to us.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Diet saboteurs use many techniques.  They:

  • Tease, taunt and mock.
  • Criticize, pressure and manipulate.
  • Gleefully predict failure.
  • Get upset because we’re spurning their offerings of fatty, starchy, sugary, calorie-loaded food.
  • Lecture that we’re harming our body by dieting.

The article says that these saboteurs usually mean well.  I disagree. When diet saboteurs continue harassing and abusing us relentlessly, they don’t mean well.  They’re narcissistic bullies who have their own agenda that they think is more important than ours.  They’re righteous. They know better and they’re out to change us – usually by beating us into submission.

Typically, they try to sabotage our diets because:

  • They may feel abandoned because we no longer eat the same food with them.
  • They may be striking back because they take our change as a put down of their old habits.
  • They may feel jealous that they’re not losing weight.
  • They may see our being thinner as a threat.
  • They may simply not like us and are finding another reason, excuse or justification to mock, ridicule, or put us down.

Who cares what their reasons are?  Understanding their reasons won’t help us stop them.  After the first time we’ve asked them to stop, their reasons for continuing now become excuses and justifications for continued harassment, abuse and bullying.  Bullies always find excuses to continue inflicting pain.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. People who are closest to us – toxic spouses, family, friends – are the most relentless saboteurs.  Things are not as we would wish. Notice that I didn’t say, “Things are not as they should be.”  Things are as they are.  That’s not what’s wrong with this picture.
  2. What’s wrong with this picture is that people feel uncomfortable and that feeling keeps them from doing what they need toTheir discomfort is their excuse to become victims.

As William Boast said, “It’s important that people know what you stand for.  It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for.”

Don’t debate or argue with their justifications.  Don’t accept apologies unless their behavior changes.  They won’t change their behavior; they won’t give up their desire for domination and control.  Instead, stop bullies or get them off our Isle of Song.

These bullying spouses, family members and friends are telling us to examine what kind of behavior we will and won’t allow around us and our families.

To have the wonderful lives we want, we must stop bullying behavior in our personal spaces.  We wouldn’t allow family members to push an alcoholic to have “just one drink” and we wouldn’t allow family abusers or perverts access to our children.  The need to stop diet saboteurs is no different.

Of course, we can start resisting gently by asking them, one-to-one in private, to stop. Or we could ignore it or laugh it off in public.  Those approaches become tests of them.  Do they stop or do they identify themselves as bullies?

We know what doesn’t stop bullies: ignoring, minimizing, conflict-avoidance, begging, bribery, defeatism, forgiveness, appeasement, understanding, unconditional love, the Golden Rule.  Relentless bullies misunderstand our kindness. They take our “rising above” as weakness and, like sharks or hyenas, they’re encouraged to attack us more.

Their relentless attacks force us to confront the central issue: which is more important; good behavior or bad blood?  And when they continue their abuse, bullies force us into an all-or-none choice.  Are we willing to defend the behavior we need to have, even if it breaks the old family dynamic, the code of silence that enables the nastiest spouse or relatives to continue getting away with their abuse for the sake of, “family?”

That choice thrusts us into the second stage of maturitywe’re called upon to decide, as independent adults, what behavior we will or won’t allow into our lives, no matter what the relationship is called.  We’re called upon to have more confidence and self-esteem.

For some examples, see the case studies in “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up,” “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

You probably wouldn’t have many second thoughts about dismissing an employee who’s extremely unproductive or behaves outrageously. But what about an employee whose performance is mediocre, but not horrible?  Or whose behavior is bad, but not outrageous?  That can be a tougher call.  But ignoring these problems can have a huge negative impact on productivity, morale and your career as a leader.

How do you know whether to let the situation continue or when it’s time to give him a last chance to straighten out before you remove him?

To read the rest of this article from the East Bay Business Journal, see: Handling the marginally troublesome employee http://www.bizjournals.com/eastbay/stories/2008/09/01/smallb6.html

For example, Carl manages a support group whose productivity is adequate.  But the managers Carl is supposed to support complain that he’s too difficult to work withHe always has facile excuses when he misses deadlines.  He conveniently forgets promises he made.  Worse, he feels defensive and blows up at meetings and verbally attacks other managersHis negativity is catching and toxic to the rest of your team.

As his department head, you can see Carl’s problems and the unhappiness of your other managers.  But you can also see the benefits Carl brings. He’s technically skilled and admired by people who don’t work with him.  He’d be difficult to replace.

In essence, Carl is abusing and bullying you by doing just enough to get byIf you don’t act you’ll create multiple problems for yourself with the rest of your staff.

Real leaders bite the bullet when they have a bad situation on their handsIf Carl is unhappy with your oversight but won’t change his behavior, help him find a job somewhere else.  Plan ahead; start looking for a replacement when you begin to hold him accountable.

When Carl is gone, your credibility will increase and you’ll get lots of positive feedback.  Other managers will heave a great sigh of relief. There’ll be a decrease in insubordination, tension and complaining.  Sick-leave and turnover will also decrease. People will thank you and tell you more stories about how bad it really was.

The simple fact is that failing to deal appropriately with a problem employee like Carl is a formula for disaster.  If you have a Carl you don’t want to deal with, ask yourself: Are you willing to sacrifice your career to avoid confronting an employee who’s creating problems within your organization?

Learn what you can do to eliminate the high cost of mediocre and poor attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

It’s easy to dislike stalkers and snitches with personal vendettas.  But you can’t fire them just because they’re relentless, stir up conflict and waste your time and energy, can you? Most of us dislike snitches.  And there are rules and laws against stalking someone in the workplace.

But if you’re a manager, someone who tells you about things your other employees are doing wrong can seem helpful.  A snitch doesn’t always look like a snitch if you’re the beneficiary, not the target or victim, of their tattling.  And they can provide useful information about serious problems you may not be aware of.

For example:

To read the rest of this article from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, see: Snitches, vendettas hurt productivity http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/print-edition/2011/11/04/the-human-element.html

Did Hazel do her boss a favor by being a snitch?  Maybe – if there weren’t more to the story.  Snitches are toxic, bullies who often beat others with trivial rules.

What can you do if you have a sneaky, manipulative, control-freak like Hazel working for you?  Even though they’re toxic, the answer can be tricky.

You certainly don’t want to discourage employees from reporting serious problems – criminal activity, safety problems and the like.  But you should be wary of any employee who’s always telling you about the faults of other employees.  There’s a good chance you have a snitch and stalker on your hands.

Where and how do you draw the lines?  You may want to put some restrictions in place.  For example:

If you manage an employee with Hazel-like obsessions, you’re not helping her or your team by encouraging stalking and snitching.  You’re creating a scenario that will destroy your teamHarassment, bullying and negativity will increase, other team members will start abusing each other, meetings will become charades with hidden agendas and character assassination, and morale will plummet.

Instead, stop stalking, personal vendettas and snitching before they start.  Focus on individual and team performance.

Learn what you can do to eliminate the high cost of snitches’ low attitudes.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.

Sometimes, bullies come to us and apologize in private for their behavior and promise that they won’t do it again.  Does that mean that the harassment, abuse and bullying will stop? When we receive a private confession and apology, it’s natural for us to heave a sigh of relief and relax; to give up our fear and anger.  And then share our secrets, fears and hopes, which is often what bullies want.  Real-world bullies will simply use this new information to embarrass us or stab us in the back.

It’s also natural for us to think that bullies are so ashamed they wouldn’t confess and apologize in public.  There are a very small percentage of bullies who will stop after a private apology, but don’t be fooled.  Most will continue manipulating and abusing us after a private apology.  If they give reasons, excuses and justifications, or blame us for their bad behavior, that’s a bad sign.

Don’t be like all those battered women (and men) – beaten verbally, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically – whose abusers come with an apology and want to be taken back in as if nothing happened.  The apology – and maybe candy the next time and flowers the time after – counts for nothing.

Forgiveness, unconditional love, appeasement, understanding and the Golden Rule don’t change real-life bullies. Don’t give into begging or bribery.

Keep those perpetrators at a great distance.  Or give them another chance if you want, but from a great distance.  Make them behave wonderfully for at least five years.  If they can’t court you for five years, vote them off your island.

A public apology counts for much more, especially from covert, sneaky manipulative bullies.

But the bottom line is behavior.  So when we receive a private apology, I’d recommend saying “Thank you.”  And not thinking we have a new friend, but also asking, “What will you do to make amends in public?”  Or even, “Thank you.  I’ll see how you act in the future to know if you’ve really changed.”

We might even suggest acts that we’ll count to mean that the bully has really changed.  That’s how we find out if someone is actually a friend or is a false friend, or if we’ll only be hearing words but not seeing deeds.

Or we might be more gracious in saying nothing but we’ll still keep watching and keeping score.  We shouldn’t give them our wallet or car keys.  We should test bullies by small steps to see if they’re trustworthy.  Be determined and persevering.

For example, see the case study of dieter Tammy being attacked by her false friend Helen in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.  Or the case studies of Brandi and Lucy with their boyfriends.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Cindy was up again at 2 AM, infuriated at her mother and her older sister.  They were so mean and cruel.  What they’d said and done hurt so much.  It was like she was a child again, subjected to their verbal beatings.  The more she thought of what they had done, the angrier she became.  She couldn’t stop her racing mind from obsessing on what they’d said. She linked the episode yesterday afternoon to the thousands of times she’d felt the same pain and frustration.  She wanted to beat them, even kill them, or never see them again.  But they were her family and she thought she couldn’t talk back or leave them.  She felt frustrated and stuck.

As the rage took her over, guilt and shame started growing.  How could she feel that hateful about her family?  Maybe they really were trying to help her?  The more she tried to get back to sleep, the more she jumped back and forth between rage and guilt.  She hadn’t seemed to make any progress in becoming a better, more spiritual person.

Cindy is stuck in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle.” The episode yesterday was like the key that started her emotional motivational engine.  And the more she thought about it, the faster ands hotter the engine went.

This cycle can be triggered by external events like Cindy’s mother and sister attacking her, or by thoughts and memories of previous episodes of harassment, blame or put-downs.  Once triggered the cycle repeats and builds in intensity and speed until we are taken over by it.  At 2 AM, in a half-sleep state we are most vulnerable to simply watching it run, as if on its own, and take over our minds and bodies.

Stages of typical cycles are:

  1. Hurt, Pain --> Frustration --> Anger --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration -->
  2. Fear --> Run, Freeze --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration --> Anger, Fear -->

Of course, the crucial question for each of us is, “What are the repeating stages in our cycle?”  We probably know exactly which thoughts, memories and words will follow in which sequence because we’ve done it to ourselves so many times.

Notice the stage in which we indulge in self-bullying: negative self-talk, blame, shame and guilt; loss of confidence and self-esteem; even suicidal thoughts.

What’s the Purpose of the Cycle? The purpose of the cycle is not really to make us feel angry and bad, even though it inevitably does.  The purpose is to motivate ourselves to make effective action.  Feeling is a tool; make us feel bad enough and we’ll finally break out of the iceberg that traps us and do something so they can’t hurt us again.

The purpose might seem to be to change the behavior of the bullies, but I think a better way of thinking about it is that its purpose is to goad us so that we simply won’t have bullies and their harassment, abuse, nastiness and bullying on our “Isle of Song.”

We may or may not be able to change their behavior.  We must accept that they have free will and they may not stop their toxic behavior.  All we can do is have effective consequences for their behavior and not put ourselves in harm’s way.  If they won’t change, we can’t allow them on our Isle of Song.  We won’t accept their control of us even or especially when they’re righteousWe won’t be slaves, scapegoats or whipping boys/girls.

The major downsides to the Emotional Motivation Cycle method of self-motivation are that:

  1. It can make us too depressed to act.  We make ourselves feel like we did when we were children; all our strength, energy, adult wisdom, determination and skill are sucked out of us, and we feel helpless and hopeless again, like we did when we were children.
  2. If we wait until we’re enraged, we’ll explode and do something ineffective that we’ll regret.  We’ll go too far and then repeat the cycle with emphasis on the self-flagellation.  Or our oppressors will change the subject and use our over-reaction to attack us on a different front.

Two responses, often championed in self-help literature, do not work:

  1. Stop thinking about it.  However, ignoring the insistent call of our spirit is not effective, and who would want it to be?  Our spirit wants us to do something effective; to stop bullying on our Isle of Song.  Nothing less will satisfy our spirit.  Why should we settle for less?
  2. Become more spiritual, understanding, forgiving – act like the Golden Rule requires.  The assumption here is that our unconditional love and perfection will convert bullies and they’ll stop abusing us.  Or we’ll get into heaven faster. That’s simply not true for real-world bullies.  Our spirit knows that also; that’s why it won’t stop bringing us back to the problem.

Instead, I recommend:

  1. At 2 AM, wake up so we can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, not weak.  Get out of bed, eat a little chocolate, shower if you need and plan what to do to act effectively.
  2. Connect with our spirit’s call and pledge to answer it.
  3. Connect with our spirit’s strength, courage and determination.
  4. Then we can coach that inner voice to help us by giving us the necessary strength, courage and determination, and by helping create an effective plan.

But what if the bullies won’t like us or will think badly of us? Who cares what jerks and sociopaths think – just stop them from abusing and harming us?  We don’t owe toxic parents or relatives anything, even if they fed us when we were children.  Good behavior is the price for admission to our Isle; blood, especially bad blood, doesn’t get them on our Isle.  Maybe we can even measure our success by how unhappy they are?

Often, the desire to protect our children from obvious, blatant rotten behavior motivates us to break the cycle and stop the abuse.

We can train ourselves to respond to our spirit when the situation is merely an irritation or frustration.  We can develop good habits that function naturally, automatically, easily.  The more we start listening to our inner voice, the more we’ll respond effectively in the moment of an assault or at the first self-hating thought.

You’ll find many examples of these responses in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

 

 

If you worry that your child will be bullied in school next school year, but you don’t know what to do until bullying happens again in September, you’re missing a golden opportunity this summer.  Summer is the best time to organize in order to protect your children on day-one. Seven tips for what you can do this summer:

  1. Don’t wait until there’s an incident or a history of incidents.
  2. Organize parents to pressure legislators, district administrators and principals. This step is a crucial one.  A small group of parents supporting an anti-bullying program and pressuring district officials and principals can make a huge difference.  You don’t need all parents; you only need a small, core group to start with.
  3. Make sure your district administrators and school principals have clear and strongly worded policies and programs to stop school bullies. Make sure they have emergencies procedures to institute swift and effective investigation and action.  Does the program start on day one?  What initial assemblies will be held with students? How will they be involved in on-going programs?  What training will teachers and all staff get to help them recognize and stop sneaky bullies?  How will hot-spots be monitored – buses, bathrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds?  What support will teachers and staff get to protect them from angry, bullying parents?  How will they deal with the first boundary pushers so that the message of zero-tolerance gets out?
  4. Get police involved. Do they have a special unit to stop bullying, especially cyberbullying?  Do they speak at school assemblies?  Are they fearless in dealing with bullying parents of school bullies?
  5. Stimulate media to publicize stories about the effects of bullying. Find reporters and producers who were bullied or have kids in school now; especially kids who have been targeted.  Help them find experts to interview.
  6. Learn what constitutes evidence and how to document it. Learn how to support proactive principals.  Learn what you will need to do to motivate lazy, uncaring, colluding or cowardly principals.  Do you know what media and legal pressure will stimulate your principal to act?  Talk to a lawyer now so you’re prepared.
  7. Publicize the policy and program before school starts. Organize parent-principal-teacher assemblies to gain buy-in to the school’s program and processes.  Encourage parents to educate their children about not bullying and about what to do when they witness bullying.

Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer.

Look at the price to all kids at a school where bullying is tolerated or condoned, or the friends of bullies are allowed to pile on to victims by threatening and abusing them or by cyberbullying.  We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

At schools that have a do-nothing principal or in which principals blame the victim and avoid the bully, kids’ inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance, resilience are threatened.  You have to be the one to demand that principals keep your children safe while officials try to ignore you or thwart your attempts.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Organize this summer so your children will be protected from school bullies on day-one.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics appropriate to us and to the situation.

Rather than buy a packaged anti-bullying program that ends up buried in a storeroom, stimulate school and district officials to create their own, based on what will be effective for your specific school situation.  Expert consulting and coaching are necessary to implement an effective program.

Newspaper videos show a suburban Dallas teacher watch one of his high school students get beaten by another student.  This was not an isolated incident.  That student was targeted for months.  Since Dallas doesn’t have a policy, teachers are on their own in deciding what to do.  In that environment, do you think that this is an isolated incident?  Not likely.  Is this only a problem for Dallas schools?  Not likely. I have a lot of sympathy for the teacher (even though he was a relatively large man) and even more for the target, who’d been turned into a victim by school-system adults who were irresponsible.  Don’t focus only on the teacher; focus on all the adults in the Dallas school system who abandoned that kid – from board members to principals and teachers and the teachers’ union.

Everyone involved in schools knows there’s a problem.  Everyone points fingers at everyone else but no one takes the obvious actions.  Why wait until there’s another killing or another suicide before they act?

Sometimes I get mad enough to want to see the bullies and the adults’ people’s pictures in the post office among the most wanted, or on television, so we can recognize the slackers when we see them at the supermarket.  Who do I fault?

  • Legislators and school board members: How can they not have laws and policies?  I know there are lots of problems writing good laws and crafting effective policies, but if they’re not up to the task, resign and let us get some adults who can.  We all know that if their kids were targeted, they’d spring into action.
  • The teachers’ union: I’m appalled that the union isn’t leading the fight (read, “spending their lobbying dollars”) to make legislators pass laws and school boards implement strong policies to empower and protect teachers when they intervene.  They have all the evidence they need to act.
  • According to the article in the Dallas News, “Rena Honea, president of Dallas teachers association Alliance-AFT, says, ‘Teachers have intervened in the past.  They have been injured.  They have not been able to return to work.  They have been reprimanded for intervening.  So there is a huge question mark as to what's truly appropriate.  Teachers who have intervened in the past have found themselves on the ground, suffering from sometimes serious injuries, a 2008 story by Tawnell Hobbs found.  She found that assaults by students on Dallas ISD employees and volunteers had more than doubled over a 5-year span from 147 incidents in 2002-03 to 312 in 2006-07, according to district statistics.
  • Of course, bullies don’t respect adults who don’t maintain lines of civil behavior.  Of course, bullies will attack people, even adults, they think can’t protect and defend themselves.
  • Principals and teachers: They’re stuck, hanging out to dry on their own, unprotected by their employers (school boards) and by their union.  That teacher in Seagoville, Texas was risking his career and his personal life if he intervened.  The attacker could have beaten him.  The attacker and his parents could have sued him.  No one is protecting him.  He’s in a no-win situation.  How come the school district doesn’t have a clear, strong program that requires principals and teachers to act?
  • The bully and his parents: Have his parents done anything to teach their child?  Has the kid never learned any better?  How come the parents haven’t come forward to apologize or ask the police to prosecute their child?  Are the adults in the school system so afraid of being sued that they’ve abandoned our children?

Harassing, bullying, abusing and beating kids are terrible acts.  Irresponsible adults who have good reasons, rationalizations, excuses and justifications for not intervening are even worse.  They convert targets into victims.

Targets can resist and get help from responsible adults.

Victims are unprotected, helpless and isolated.  When victims grow up:

The next articles will deal with what we, as parents, can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to our children; especially what we can do during the summer.

But the general take-home for parents is that all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.

 

“How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Jenny Castor, Denver ABC-TV station KMGH-TV, video journalist reports on a program to stop school bullies that is actually effective, “Students Learn Anti-Bullying Skills Starting In Kindergarten.”  The accompanying video shows training to help “Young Students Exercise Ways To Defuse Mean Encounter With Potential Bully.” The driving forces behind the program at Most Precious Blood Catholic School are the principal, Colleen McManamon and assistant principal, Roxie Mountain-Weed.  While the program is based on standard offerings, they and their teachers and staff are the difference that makes the difference.

Notice these features in what they do:

The training and participation side of the program decreases bullying by a huge amount.  A critical factor, usually not mentioned, is that both Colleen and Roxie and their staff stop bullies in their tracks immediately and get their parents involved.  I’ve met Colleen and Roxie; they’re wonderful, joyous and formidable.  Unlike what happens at others schools mentioned in the Channel 7 “Stop Bullying” series, in this successful program, targets are not made into victims while the bullies are ignored and enabled.

Don’t waste your time with nit-picky detractors and critics who have nothing better to offer.  Some people will say that they can only do this because Most Precious Blood is a private school or that the program takes too much money or that other school principals and staff don’t have the time.  Nonsense.

Look at the price to all kids at a school where bullying is tolerated or condoned, or the friends of bullies are allowed to pile on to victims by threatening and abusing them or by cyberbullying.  We all know the consequences of not stopping bullies and of allowing them continued contact with their targets, the bullying and violence will increase.

At schools that have a do-nothing principal or in which principals blame the victim; avoid the bully,” kids’ inner strength, courage, determination, perseverance, resilience are threatened.  You have to be the one to demand that principals keep your children safe while officials try to ignore you or thwart your attempts.

Principals who avoid the issue make the targeted children feel helpless and that their situation is hopeless.  It starts them down the path to being victims for life.  It destroys self-confidence and self-esteem.  It stimulates anxiety, stress, guilt, negativity and self-mutilation.  It starts children toward isolation, depression and suicide.

Of course, even when principals are cowards or are reluctant to protect your children, you can still protect them yourself.

Remember, all tactics depend on the situation – the people and the circumstances.  So we must plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.

If your children are the targets of bullies and school officials who aren’t protecting them, you need to take charge.  With expert coaching and consulting, we can become strong and skilled enough to overcome principals and other officials who won’t do what’s right.

How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” have many examples of children and adults commanding themselves and then stopping bullies.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” has gotten enough publicity to make her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a best seller.  She’s clear that she uses the term “Chinese Mother” to represent a certain way of treating children that may be found in people from many, many cultures. If many people adopt her style of parenting in order to make their children play at Carnegie Hall that would be a shame.  Amy Chua is an abusive bully.

She beats her children into submission and claims that they’ll have great self-esteem as well as becoming successful in the competitive jungle of life because they can accomplish the very few things Ms. Chua thinks are important.

They also won’t suffer from anxiety, nightmares, negative self-talk and depression because they’ll be successful in her real world.  The bullying and beatings will make them as tough as nails.  They’ll wipe out your kids; you lazy, slacking, guilt-ridden, ambivalent, permissive American parents.

Some of her ideas and claims are:

  • “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.”
  • “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight “As.”  Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.”
  • “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem…Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches.  Chinese parents aren't.  They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
  • “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.  If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough.  That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.”
  • “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences.”

Therefore, she proudly states that never allowed her daughters to:

  • “attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Why will some people take her seriously? People who think that American culture produces only losers – selfish, lazy, narcissistic, weak, slacker teenagers and adults who will never succeed – will be tempted to improve their children’s test scores acting like Ms. Chua did.  People who enjoy beating their children into submission will be tempted to use her ideas as a justification for dominating and abusing their children.  People who think that China is the next rising super-power and that today’s Chinese children will rule the world and our children won’t be strong and determined enough to stop them will be tempted to channel their children down Ms. Chua’s narrow track.

There’s a grain of sense in what she says, but that grain is covered by a mountain of brutality that will be successful in creating only slaves or another generation of bullying parents, not in creating fully human beings.

What’s wrong with Ms. Chua’s ideas?

  • She lives in a kill-or-be-killed world of desperate striving for the most material rewards of success.
  • She’s rigid, narrow, and all-or-none with only two possibilities.
  • She allows only a few criteria for success – Stanford or Yale, violin or piano, maybe ballet.  I assume only one or two acceptable careers like lawyer or professor.
  • She assumes that there are only totally slacking children (Americans) or totally successful children (with “Chinese Mothers”).  If you give children an inch, they’ll become complete failures.
  • She assumes that there’s only one way to get children to work and succeed.  Because no children want to work at the right subjects, you must beat them into submission physically, verbally and emotionally.
  • She thinks that the only way her children can be successful and happy and honor their parents is to be champions at her approved activities.
  • There’s almost no joy in their lives.  Yes, there’s a moment when her daughter masters a difficult two-handed exercise.  But the best that the rest of life holds is the thrill of victory and success at winning.  There’s no possibility for joy in doing activities that thrill your soul and uplift your spirit.

Ms. Chua has only one value – compete and defeat; win at any cost. This is a great and necessary value.  It has made our society the first world.  But if when the only value, when she ignores all the other equally great and necessary values she becomes inhuman – a barbarian, a torturer, no better than a Nazi or Communist or Fascist.

No wonder she’s aghast at all the personal attacks.  She may be a brilliant law professor and accomplished writer but she’s completely out of touch with the world’s great traditions championing other values like great character, individuality, liberty, self-determination, love, beauty, compassion, spirituality and human connection.  That’s why people take it so personally.  Ms. Chua is attacking our most cherished values; cherished for good reasons.  These values make us human in our most fundamental American, western ways.

Ms. Chua represents inhumanity justified by Darwin and Marx.  She represents a revival of B.F. Skinner’s way of raising his daughter in a “Skinner Box,” as if she was a pigeon.  When she grew up she sued him.

A better approach:

  • Have you observed your children individually and carefully?  One approach does not fit them all.
  • Which children need you to provide more structure and which will be dedicated and determined on their own?  Which children respond better when they’re encouraged and which respond better to having their imperfections pointed out?  This is where expert coaching is helpful to design approaches that fit you and each child.
  • What are your children passionate about so they become energetic and determined on their own?  Are following an artists path, playing the oboe, writing “silly” stories like “The Little Prince,” learning to program computers, studying bugs and strange sea creatures, mastering any sport, being a person who inspires others to be the best they can be, dedicating yourself to raising independent and creative children living rich and full lives, being a craftsman who makes great pianos or violins, coaching basketball teams at “minor schools” like University of Connecticut or UCLA to set winning-record streaks, being entrepreneurs like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, making movies, loving children and a thousand other endeavors worthwhile to you?  How can you encourage and nurture your child’s dedication and skill in those areas?
  • Character is critical.  All of the world’s great literature points to the deficiencies of social climbers, bureaucrats and people whose only focus is to win at all costs.  What would Ms. Chua have created if she could have gotten her hands on the children who became, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Or great figures in the world from Joan of Arc, Hildegard of Bingen and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. or Aung San Suu Kyi, to name only five of thousands.
  • Don’t be a victim of your parents’ ideas about what constitutes success and how to achieve it.  You can give your children the tools of the mind, will and spirit and let them create their own lives that they’ll love.

By the way, Ayalet Waldman wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response in the Wall Street Journal, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”  In part she defends her children’s choices and her catering to those choices.  In part she also defends her selfish desires to discourage her children when their activities would inconvenience her.  That’s not the answer either.

All of the poles in this discussion are the wrong places to be – being a wimpy parent or an uncaring, selfish parent or a brute.

Instead, find the fire in your children and feed that fire.  Help them become skillful and competent in areas that matter most to them.  Help them create a life that’s uniquely theirs, not one you think is proper or best for them.

Why do I say that Ms. Chua is abusive and a bully?  Let’s review – what do “Chinese Mothers” and bullies have in common.

  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” don’t care what you think or how much pain you feel.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” can do what they want to you and you’d better like it.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are right and righteous.
  • Bullies and “Chinese Mothers” are the best because they’re the winners in life.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” beat you into submission for your own good.
  • Control-freak bullies and “Chinese Mothers” isolate you and make you dependent on them.

My conclusion is that if it looks like a bully, if it acts like a bully and if it feels like bullying then it’s a bully, even if it calls itself “Mommie Dearest.”

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AuthorBen Leichtling
Tagsabusing, abusive, accomplish, activities, adults, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, allowed, ambivalent, American, Amy Chua, anxiety, anxious, article, attacking, attacks, Aung San Suu Kyi, barbarian, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, beating, beatings, beats, beauty, book, brutality, brute, bullies, Bullies at School, bully, bullying, bureaucrats, character, Charles Dickens, children, China, Chinese, Chinese Mothers, choose, Chua, claims, Communist, compassion, compete, competitive, complain, computer, computer games, connection, control, control-freak, creative, culture, cultures, Darwin, dedicated, defeat; win, demand, depression, desires, desperate, determination, determined, discourage, dominating, emotionally, encourage, encouraged, energetic, entrepreneurs, esteem, excoriate, failures, Fascist, fragility, fundamental, games, Gates, grades, guilt, happy, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hildegard of Bingen, honor, In Defense of the Guilty, inconvenience, independent, individuality, individually, inhumanity, Isolate, Joan of Arc, joy, jungle, justification, lawyer, lazy, liberty, literature, losers, love, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Marx, material, mothers, narcissistic, narrow, Nazi, negative, negative self-talk, nightmares, nurture, pain, parenting, parents, passionate, perfect, performance, permissive, physically, piano, playdate, power, preferences, Preoccupied Western Mom, professor, psyches, publicity, punish, right, righteous, rigid, rule, scores, self-determination, self-esteem, self-talk, selfish, shame, skill, Slacker, slacking, slaves, sleepover, social climbers, solution, soul, spirit, spirituality, sport, Steve Jobs, strength, strong, structure, submission, substandard, Succeed, successful, suffer, super-power, superior, teenagers, test, test scores, torturer, traditions, TV, uncaring, uniquely, values, verbally, victim, victory, violin, Waldman, Wall Street Journal, weak, western parents, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, wimpy, winners, work, wrong
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In his article in the New York Times, Erik Eckholm, points out that, “Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance.” The article continues, “Rick DeMato, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, [who] opposes the curriculum changes in the school district in Helena, Mont. [has led] angry parents and religious critics…[to] charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden ‘homosexual agenda,’ implicitly endorsing, for example, same sex marriage.”

What does this have to do with the devious tactics of sneaky, stealth bullies?

Stealth bullies win when they can change the subject to fit their agendas; when they can distract you from your subject and make the focus of discussion be something they want to discuss and over which they think they can win.

For example, suppose you complain about your date or spouse’s public or private sarcasm, put-downs and nasty, mocking humor.  If he’s a stealthy, manipulative bully, he might change the subject by saying that you’re hypersensitive and you over-react, or that you hurt his feelings by complaining.  If he can get you to focus on whether you’re hypersensitive or have no sense of humor or on making him feel better, then he wins and you lose.  You’ll never get him to stop making those remarks.

Or suppose you’re angry that he hit you.  If he’s a stealthy predator, he might complain that you didn’t communicate that in a supportive way or that you over-reacted or that you started it and you provoked him or that he felt put-down by your anger, which reminded him of his childhood.  And that’s the only thing he wants to talk about.  If he can get you to focus on your poor communication or his hurt feelings and past trauma, he wins and you lose.  He’ll never have to talk about your pain when he hit you and, since he has a good excuse for hitting you (his past trauma), he doesn’t have to change.

Notice the general rule: whoever controls the focus of the discussion will win.  Teenagers are also adept at doing this to their parents.

Therefore, you must take charge of the agenda.  Make him focus first on his sarcastic put-downs or on his hitting you.  And you have to be satisfied by the result before you’ll discuss his agenda.  If he doesn’t satisfy you, don’t go on to his agenda.  Go as far away as you can.

What does this have to do with the anti-bullying policies and programs we started with?

The initial agenda in those schools is stopping harassment, bullying and abuse of kids or adults.  The reason given by the bullies to justify their verbal, emotional and physical attacks was that their targets were gay or lesbian.  I pay more attention to the actions than to the excuses and justifications.  The agenda is stopping the bullying and violence.  The agenda is stopping the negativity, pain, anxiety and depression bullying causes.  The agenda is stopping the targets’ loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, and the increasing number of bullying-caused suicides.

Some people want to make the agenda be a torturous and emotionally-charged discussion of whether schools can be allowed to promote a pro-gay and pro-lesbian agenda.  And whether parents or educators control what’s taught in schools.

If those stealthy bullies can get you into those discussions, you’ll never stop school bullying.  They won’t have to stop their children from bullying and abusing other kids.  They feel that bullying and violence should be condoned or at least tolerated because the bullies have good reasons to torment their targets.  Since, they think, being gay or lesbian is a sin, if one of the targets becomes a victim and commits suicide, the world is a better place.

So keep the focus where it should be: anti-bullying programs that stop bullies.  When I’m called in to help schools develop effective programs, I always challenge dissenters to come up with a better program to stop bullies before we talk about areas that would distract us from the main agenda.

And in your personal and work life, take charge of the agenda and keep the focus on the subject that matters; stopping bullies in their tracks – whatever their reasons, excuses or justifications.

Principals didn’t stop school bullies and now there are more school bullying-caused suicides.  In all of the cases I’ll describe, there were differences in the bullies’ methods of harassing and abusing their targets.  But what was the same was that the parents complained and the responsible school teachers and principals didn’t protect the children in their care.  Also the same was the principals’ or school district administrators’ defense: “We didn’t know.” To me, especially after the parents of the targets complained, that’s an admission of incompetence, delinquency and neglect.  The other kids at school knew who bullies were and where, when and how it occurred; why don’t the college-educated, supposedly intelligent and responsible adults know?

I know that the first culprits are the bullies themselves and their parents.  But I want to shine two lights: I know that the first culprits are the bullies themselves and their parents.  But I want to shine two lights:

Notice the similarities in all these cases:

  • In Texas, a straight “A” eighth-grader, Asher Brown, took his life 18 months after his parents claim to have reported on-going bullying by four other students.  Despite the evidence of repeated conversations offered by the parents, the school district spokeswomen, Kelli Durham, whose husband, Alan Durham, is assistant principal, claims that they never knew and never had evidence.  Nothing was done to stop the bullies or remove them.

However, numerous comments from other parents and students on the web site of KRIV-TV Channel 26, which also reported a story about Brown's death, stated that the boy had been bullied by classmates for several years and claimed Cy-Fair ISD in Texas does nothing to stop such harassment.

  • An 11-year old Oklahoma boy, Ty Smalley, committed suicide after being bullied repeatedly for about two years.  Despite the parents contact with the school, teachers, counselors and the principal never saw anything and never stopped the bullying.  The parents were told things like, “Boys will be boys” and “It would be looked into.”  According to Ty’s father, Kirk, the school never documented any of these conversations so they can now claim that they never knew.

The event that precipitated Ty’s suicide was when he finally retaliated against the bully he was suspended for three days while the bully, previously identified to the teachers, was suspended for only one day.

  • An eight-year old in a Texas Elementary school tried to commit suicide, but survived his leap off the balcony of a school building.  He had been repeatedly harassed but school officials had done nothing.  His mother said that teachers kept telling her they'd “handle it” when she complained about the bullying over the past seven months.  The last straw for the 8-year-old was when he was told to leave his classroom after two other boys pulled down his pants in front of the class.

The principal, Linda Bellard, said teachers never informed her of the harassment until the boy's suicide attempt, although the child's mother had visited the school seven times since September to complain about the problem.

Each of these cases will wind their way through courts, settlements will be reached in some, some school administrators will get off because there aren’t specific enough laws that require them to act and we’ll probably never know the whole truth because we weren’t there.

As a parent whose responsibility is to ensure the physical safety, and the mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of your child, you need to know how to get appropriate action from principals and teachers who will resist acting strongly and swiftly to stop bullies.  Your child’s self-confidence, self-esteem and life depend on your skill.

  • Complain to teachers, counselors and principals.  But it’s never enough to complain or even to keep a record of your visit and conversation.
  • Give the responsible adults one chance.  Do they remove the bully?  Do they continue to monitor the bully and his or her friends for further retaliation?  Or do they remove your child?  Do they excuse the bully’s behavior as, “Kids will be kids?”  Do they say that the bully has a right to be educated in classes of his or her choice?
  • Use “The Lucius Malfoy” test.  Is your child’s principal standing up to the bullying parents of the school bully?  Or will he or she cower in front of bullying parents who say their child does no wrong or who threaten to sue the school if anything happens to their little darling?
  • If your principal fails theses test you must bring pressure to bear - immediately.  Remember that principals fear three things more than anything else: loss of job, publicity and law suits.
  • Get a lawyer and media publicity.  Learn what constitutes evidence and documentation.  Record all communication.  Communicate in writing and have proof that school officials received the letters you write.
  • Bullying is rarely an isolated event.  Unite with other parents whose children are bullied.  Get witnesses who will put their evidence in writing.
  • Have support for the long-haul.  Find people who’ll keep your spirits up through repeated set-backs.  Find experts to help you plan tactics at each step of the way.

Have great appreciation for principals who simply won’t tolerate bullying – who will have strong, proactive programs to train their staff and who will act swiftly and firmly in response to complaints.  Training is never enough: strong and courageous people are required to make these programs effective. Have realistic expectations; don’t assume that principals, teachers, counselors and district administrators will be active in stopping bullies.  Expect bullies’ parents to thwart your efforts.  Expect most uninvolved people to look away.  If nothing bad happens to bullies, expect other kids to pile on.

You’re on your own.  Many children will give up if they’re not protected by adults; make sure that you know how to protect yours.  Be the skillful advocate of your child’s safety and well-being.

There are toxic people in every environment – toxic lovers, husbands, wives, parents, children, relatives, bosses and coworkers.  Many people let bullying friends continue abusing them because they want to maintain the friendship.  They won’t disagree with or hurt the feelings of the false-friend even if he or she’s a righteous, narcissistic control-freak. However, if you don’t stop these bossy, self-centered bullies, they’ll increase your anxiety and stress, harass you and make your life miserable, take over your life and eventually turn other friends against you.

Joan had a problem with her friend Shelly.  Shelly was sure that she knew what’s right about everything and was intent on straightening out Jane.  She told Jane that Jane was a failure because of numerous character flaws; that’s why Jane’s children were not as successful as Shelly’s.  She said that if Jane didn’t do things the way Shelly told her, Jane’s part-time business would fail and Jane would be a failure her whole life.

Shelly corrected Jane about every detail; how Jane dressed, what she ate, who she talked to, what she read and where she went to church.  She also knew how Jane should behave to prove she was a true friend to Shelly.  If Jane didn’t change, Shelly either cried or got very indignant and angry.

Shelly was always convinced she was absolutely right and perceptive enough to recognize Jane’s hidden fears.  Faced with Shelly’s certainty and a few accurate remarks by her, Jane was thrown into self-questioning and self-doubt.  She agonized that maybe Shelly was right.  It was hard to argue against Shelly’s righteousness and total conviction.  As soon as Jane started, Shelly got angry and rebutted every one of Jane’s objections with reasonable sounding answers.  Or Shelly changed the subject and verbally attacked Jane.  Jane could never convince Shelly that she was wrong or that she was a self-righteous bully.

Also, selfish Shelly was the center of attention.  Most of their conversation was about Shelly’s emotional melodrama.  Only at the very end did Shelly pause to tell Jane where she was wrong.

The few times Jane has brought up a problem of Shelly’s, Shelly attacked Jane, claiming that Jane was jealous of Shelly or that Jane once did what she didn’t want Shelly to do.

After every conversation with Shelly, Jane felt discouraged, depressed and defeated.  She was afraid that if she told Shelly what she really felt, she’d lose her best friend.

Every situation is different; every situation has complications that limit possible solutions.  Solutions to each situation will have to be designed specifically for the people involved.  For example, in Jane’s case, she was afraid that if she argued or disagreed with Shelly, Shelly would sabotage Jane to all their friends. However, there is a general rule: The longer you accept the righteous put-downs and control by a bullying, abusive false-friend, the more your confidence and self-esteem will be battered.  You must gather the will and determination to act.  You must learn skills of planning and successfully executing effective tactics.

The key to Jane’s breaking free was to see that Shelly was an abusive bully, not a true friend.  Jane realized that true friends don’t act the way Shelly did.  That realization gave Jane the will – the determination, perseverance and grit – to be honest with Shelly.  Jane realized that the friendship she might lose was one that hurt, even though Shelly called it “best friends.”  Jane also prepared herself and her other friends for what Shelly was likely to do in retaliation.

Jane didn’t argue, debate or try to prove to Shelly that she was a bully.  Jane simply stated how people had to act in order to be her friend and to be in her personal space.  Shelly was shocked that Jane finally found the backbone.  Of course, Shelly was convinced that Jane was wrong.  Shelly tried to turn their friends against Jane, but Jane’s preparation paid off.  The friends had had similar experiences with Shelly.

For another example, in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” see how Tammy stopped a false-friend who tried to force food down Tammy’s throat even though Tammy was trying to diet.

Toxic, righteous, controlling, bullying, abusive false-friends usually don’t change.  The relief and freedom you feel when you clear them out of your environment tells you that it was worth the effort.  You’ve reclaimed your spirit and your life.

Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common.  But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids. Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.

These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil.  The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.

But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.

Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes.  Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets.  “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered.  Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”

Nonsense.  These narcissistic mothers deserve nothing; certainly not the allegiance of their abused daughters.  Most daughters make repeated overtures of friendship to their uncaring and unsympathetic mothers.  The daughters hope that by understanding why their mothers didn’t protect and defend them they’ll be able to forgive their mothers and maintain a loving connection.

I hope that the emotional blackmail and manipulation contained in the word “forgiveness” will be the last straw.  How can the mothers heal the wounds they ignored and let fester during years of abuse?  In addition, these mothers rarely start making amends by getting rid of the perpetrators.

The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag.  There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.

Separate from what social services and the police might have been able to do, what can the adult children do now?

  • Don’t debate or argue.  Don’t try to get your mother and step-father to admit what they did.  They can keep you hung up, focusing on them for years.  Take your time and energy away from them and focus on a new life.
  • Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem.  Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
  • Get away from both your mother and step-father; physically and emotionally.  Get away from triggers that are guaranteed to keep you in emotional turmoil.  Don’t let abusers keep hitting a very black-and-blue area of your body, emotions and spirit.  Distance and no contact will help you focus on your present and future instead of on your past.
  • Don’t let your children near them.  More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators.  Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
  • Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do.  Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
  • Become internally invulnerable.  Use the past pain to inspire your present life.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.  Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags.  Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you.  Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.

Don’t let toxic step-fathers and colluding mothers ruin any more of your life than they did when they had physical control of you.  You’re now an adult.  You have control of your physical, emotional and spiritual island.  Vote them off it.

Imagine that you have a new boyfriend who seems wonderful and you’re looking forward to a romantic Valentine’s Day.  But in your past relationships you were harassed, bullied, controlled and abused.  You finally realize you have a tendency to pick the wrong guys.  What should you look for with this new one and what should you do if you see any warning signs? Step back and take a look at how he treats people now.  Don’t listen to any of his reasons, explanations or excuses.  Look only at his actions.  Everyone can blow up once a year under extreme pressure, so count how often he behaves that way.  Look for patterns.

Test him now … before it’s too late.

Does he harass, bully, abuse or control you?

  1. Does he push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what he wants?
  2. Does he make the rules and control everything – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on?  Does he think that his sense of timing and rules of proper conduct are the right ones?
  3. Do his standards rule?  Is your “no” not accepted as “no?”  Is he always right and you’re always wrong?  Is sex always when and what he wants and for his pleasure?  Is his sense of humor always right?  Does he say that he’s not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive?  Do your issues get dealt with or are his more important so he can ignore your concerns or wishes?
  4. Does he control you with negativity, disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt?  For example, no matter what you do, are you wrong or not good enough?  Does he cut you down in subtle ways and claim that he’s just kidding?  Or does he control you with his hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide?
  5. Are you afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage?  For example, do you walk on eggshells?  Does he intimidate you with words and weapons?  Does he threaten you, your children, your pets or your favorite things?
  6. Are you told that you’re to blame if he’s angry?  Do you feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained?  In this relationship, has your self-doubt increased, while your self-confidence and self-esteem decreased?
  7. Does he isolate you?  Are you allowed to see your friends or your family, go to school or even work?  Does he force you to work because he needs your money?  Are you told that you’re incompetent, helpless and would be alone without them him?
  8. Does he need your money to make his business schemes work?  Does he have a pattern of not keeping jobs, even though he blames his lack of success on other people or bad luck?  Is he looking for someone to support him like he thinks he deserves?

If you answered yes to most (or even any of these questions), pull out a piece of paper and write, in big capital letters, “Bully” and “Control-Freak” and “Abuser.”  Now you know what you’re dealing with.  Post these signs on your mirror, car, computer and work space.  Put them in your purse.

When you protest, does he promise to stop?

  1. Whatever his reasons, if he isn’t convincing when he says he’s sorry, run away real fast.
  2. After he promises to stop, does treat you nice for a while before the next incident?

Remember, apologies, excuses, reasons and justifications count only one time.  After that, only actions count.

While bullies are courting you, until he gets you, he’ll treat you the best he’ll ever treat you.  For bullies, it’s all downhill after he thinks he’s got you. How does he treat other people like: 

  1. Servers – waiters and waitresses, clerks at the movies and retail stores, people who work for airlines.  Does he harass, bully and abuse them?  Does he try to get something for free?
  2. Supervisees, coworkers and vendors.  Does he think they’re stupid, incompetent and lazy?   Does he jerk them around?  Does he retaliate viciously if he feels offended?
  3. Acquaintances and friends?  Does he keep them only if he’s the boss or center of attention?  Does he have friends who have lasted?   Are the relationships brutal or are they like those you’d like between equals?
  4. His former girlfriends or ex-wives.  What would they say about those relationships?  Does he claim all those women were bad or rotten?  Did he retaliate in the end?
  5. His parents and siblings?  Does he abuse them because they deserve it, or has he simply walked away because they’re impossible to have a good relationship with?

Don’t think you’re unique, different and safe; don’t think that he’ll never treat you that way.  That’s magical thinking.  A person who has mastered harassment, bullying, controlling and abusing these people, especially the helpless servers, supervisees and vendors will eventually get around to you.

What does he wish he could do to those other people?

  1. Does he wish he could have had the strength, courage and opportunity to retaliate without bad consequences to himself?
  2. Is he itching to take his anger or rage out on someone else (like, maybe you)?

He probably will do those things to you once he thinks you’re under his thumb – after you’re married, have children, or become dependent on his approval, permission or money.

Ignore your overwhelming feelings of true love.  Don’t waste your life trying to fix him.  Get rid of him now before it’s too late; before you live together, or he slowly gets you to give him control.  He’s only a boyfriend.  Find a better one to have all those feelings of true love with.

See the case studies of Brandi and Lucy in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”

You’ll need an expert coach to develop specific tactics to get away while keeping your money, car, home, family, friends and job.

Spend this Valentine’s Day alone and work with your therapist or coach to prepare for a loving Valentine’s Day next year.

Of course, women harass, bully, control and abuse men just as much in their own ways, but that will be the subject of a different article.

Posted
AuthorBen Leichtling

The holidays are a perfect time to recognize and respond effectively to the early warning signs of bullying boyfriends, controlling girlfriends and domineering dates.  Whether these control-freaks are stimulated by holiday pressures and stresses, or they simply seize the opportunity to take charge of multiple events, their subversive, controlling tactics become more apparent during the holidays. Many people need coaching help at this time of year to stop the Grinches who want to destroy their family fun.

Call these control-freaks “bullies” when: Call these control-freaks “bullies” when:

  • They won’t allow you to continue family traditions you love.
  • They try to control the timing of visits to your family.
  • They insist that the holidays must be celebrated the way they want.
  • They insist that the holidays are merely foolish, commercial events and you’re not allowed to feel good cheer or to celebrate.
  • They insist on a hostile review your choice of presents.  They won’t allow the “Secret Santa” gifts.
  • They fight over every little arrangement.  They’ll harass you until you give in.

Some of these abusive bullies are overt – they threaten or use force or they simply block your way and won’t let you leave or they throw big fits and threaten to break up with you.

Some of the early warning signs of the subtle, covert, stealthy, sneaky, manipulative bullies are:

  1. They control everything; they make the rules – what you do, where you go, who spends the money and what it’s spent on.
  2. They push boundaries, argue endlessly and withhold approval and love if you don’t do exactly what they want.
  3. Their standards rule – your “no” isn’t accepted as “no;” they’re always right and you’re always wrong; their sense of humor is right and they’re not abusing you, you’re merely too sensitive.
  4. They control you with their disapproval, name-calling, demeaning putdowns, blame and guilt.  Their negativity is depressing.  Or they control you with their hyper-sensitive, hurt feelings and threats to commit suicide.
  5. You’re afraid you’ll trigger a violent rage – you walk on eggshells; they intimidate you with words and weapons; they threaten you, the pets, your favorite things.  You’re told that you’re to blame if they’re angry.  You feel emotionally blackmailed, intimidated and drained.
  6. They insist that their values are right and yours are “silly” or “wrong” or “illogical.”
  7. They isolate you – they won’t allow you to see your friends or family, go to school or even work.

They use their ruthless logic to prove that they’re right and that you should do things their way.  To defy them means a war that would ruin the holidays.

The temptation for nice people is to find excuses for bullies’ explosive feelings and controlling actions, and to give in.  The temptation is to think you can give them the love they didn’t get when they were kids or that you can love them so much that they’ll become nice.  The temptation is to think that they’ll change with time.

Don’t give in to those temptations.  Don’t argue, debate or try to convince them that they should change.

While they’re still merely boyfriends, girlfriends or dates, vote them off your island.  Make the break before you move in, buy a house or have children.  No matter how much you think you love them, make the break immediately.

Enjoy a dateless holiday this year so that you can make space for someone better to come into your life next year.

A New York Times blog post by Lisa Belkin, “A Bully at Age 4?” raises the question, “How young is too young to be a bully?” A comment from a parent described a big 4-year old child hitting other 4-year old kids at school, not allowing other kids to play if he didn’t feel like it, biting another kid so severely through a thick jumper that bad marks were left, and punching another child in front of a teacher.  The teacher asked the bully to apologize but the bully refused.  The teacher did nothing further.

The parent wanted to know if the 4-year old was old enough to intend to hurt his victims and if he was a “bully?”  Since the school wasn’t taking this seriously, the parent wondered if she was overreacting or if she should do something to protect her child?

In trying to define bullying and in thinking she shouldn’t act if the aggressor hadn’t intended to hurt his targets, I think the parent is taking the wrong approach.

Instead, she should begin by asking what she wants for her child.  Do you want your child hit, bitten, cut out of games, punched?  Don’t intellectualize about it.  Don’t give excuses for the bully (For example: "He’s too young to understand the pain he’s causing").

If you want your child repeatedly abused, if you want to leave your child in the hands of teachers and administrators who won’t protect your child when he’s harassed or attacked by someone bigger turn your back and leave your child to the predators.

On the other hand, if you don’t want your child brutalized, maybe a little outrage would serve you well.  Would you allow your children to do that to each other?  If you want your child to be treated with civility and kindness, then you must act with courage and strength.  Don’t wait to act until you’re absolutely positive that a kid’s behavior has risen into some mental category you can label “bully.”

If your child is too small to fight back, you have to protect him.  Get the parents of other targeted kids to go en masse to the school principal and teachers.  Hold them accountable to stop bullies like that abusive 4-year old.  Apologies are never enough, but there are many options for meaningful and effective consequences: He can be given an all-day time out, he can be socialized while he's kept away from his targets, his parents can be held accountable for his behavior, and he can probably be kicked out of school if he won’t change his behavior.

If the school administrators are reluctant to protect the children in their care, you might explain what a little publicity can do.  For example; would they like a national story on their school, “School Condones Bullying Despite Parents’ Protest”?  Or simply move your child to a different school in which the responsible adults care about his emotional health and physical safety.

As an aside, in my experience, 4-year olds know if they can get what they want by brutalizing or abusing another kid.  If their bullying isn’t stopped when they’re children, they’ll grow up to be adult bullies; in love and at work.  But intention to hurt is not the issue.  You can stop the bullying even before a child understands all the ramifications of that behavior.  The child’s understanding of the consequences that will happen to him can be enough to stop the behavior.

Also of course, your 4-year old is finding out whether he can count on you to keep him safe and healthy or if you won’t protect him.  If you justify or excuse the bully’s actions, you’ll be ruining your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem.  All your life, you’ll live with the consequences of your actions and his decision about you.